Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Legendary Opulence,
an Unparalleled Trendsetter,
and a Nickname with Staying Power


Nicknames can sometimes define a person, but when we talk about the person to whom my father owed his future—and mainstay—place of employment, it was the man who bestowed meaning to his own nickname.

The Roxy—not the nightclub people talked about, up through the earlier years of our own century, but a previous hot spot well known to New Yorkers almost a century ago—started out as the dream of a film producer. Herbert Lubin—also called Bert Lubin—was known for his movies in the 1920s. Investing in his own dream to create the world's finest movie palace in New York City, Lubin brought in the talent to convert that dream into reality, including an innovative theater operator by the name of Samuel Rothafel.

If you didn't recognize the name of that immigrant impresario, it might be an understandable slip on your part. After all, it is likely you weren't around in New York City in 1927, when ten million Americans would tune in to his radio broadcasts every Monday.

At Lubin's invitation—not to mention, substantial financial enticement—Rothafel was free to implement Lubin's dream with his own ideas about theatrical design and production values. As we look back on Rothafel's achievement, he may be hailed as an "unparalleled trendsetter," but his opulent ideas cost Lubin a near brush with bankruptcy. While Lubin's original plan had been to make this the flagship of a series of six such theaters in the metro area, a week before opening day, he sold his controlling interest in the project to William Fox, founder of Fox Studios, and moved on. 

As for the brilliant—albeit lavish—Rothafel, he remained with his dream project from its opening day on March 11, 1927, through the 1929 stock market crash, and on until 1932, when he left the theater named for him and which contained so much of his innovative talent. Its lavish appearance—everything from the columned Grand Foyer with its "world's largest oval rug" to its immense theater-sized pipe organ—bore the fingerprints of Rothafel's inspiration. Despite Rothafel's ties to this historic theater, he left for a better opportunity at Rockefeller Center, where he opened another theater whose name may be more familiar to us today: Radio City Music Hall.

As for the movie palace he left behind, the theater continued to offer its featured combination of first-run movies and live shows. Both my father and my mother, having worked there, shared stories of performing at the once-glamorous venue that was, up until the end of March, 1960, a part of the city's heritage.

Now, I doubt many people at all would recognize the name of the innovative man, Samuel Rothafel, who made the theater the place it became. But some might recognize the nickname Rothafel was known by, the name by which the theater itself was called: the Roxy. That was the place where my musician dad played his trombone in the orchestra, and my mom eventually became a dancer with the "Roxyettes." It is through their stories that I know anything at all about the Roxy—but in learning more about that New York City fixture of the 1940s, it will help me understand more about my own parents. And it certainly helps me understand the origin of what seemed to me to be an unusual name for a movie theater. 


  1. Replies
    1. Miss Merry, I can hardly envision what a place like that must have looked like. I did find some photos to share tomorrow, though, so see what you think of them then.


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